Stolen heart, bloated belly: adventur-eating through Bologna

Once upon a rainy Wednesday four UNISG students set out on the 9:44 train headed for Bologna with a taste for adventure and the world’s best ragu. Armed with only their wits, an umbrella and a few hastily written restaurant recos, the foursome arrived at Bologna Centrale ready for whatever the Gods of Ragu threw their way.

They splashed and slipped their way onto the shadowy, but dry covered sidewalks busy visualizing blue skies and sun. “It’s not Bologna’s fault it’s dreary and rainy out! Pretend it’s sunny to be fair,” they implored each other.

It quickly became clear though that no such tricks of the mind were necessary. Bologna’s secrets and charm can’t be so easily undone by cloudy skies and a few raindrops.

While porticoes were originally common in many European cities,  most were either torn down or destroyed over time. Bologna’s have stood the test of time mostly due to their utility during the 1200s when thousands of students congregated in Bologna. The second floor of the adjacent structures were used for student housing, the bottom floor used for shops. Porticoes increased the stability and durability of the building and provided shelter from the elements at the same time.

The group’s first stop were the city’s renowned produce and meat markets. Feeling like uncharted territory exuding unfamiliar smells the stalls were a visual tangle of vibrant never-before-seen textures, shapes and hues. As they meandered through the narrow walkways the girls were stunned and invigorated by their discoveries, but also a little uneasy. Bologna’s markets held more unfamiliar fruit and veg than ones they could name. Making research notes for later and with heads held high, they pushed forward.

The  fearless foursome were stumped. How many can YOU name?

The scent of fresh fish lured them toward their next stop. Down narrow cobblestone alleyways they went, careful not to make any false moves. Squids and sepia, covered in a fresh coat of ink looked braced, ready for battle against unassuming tourists.

Babe the Pig and the rest of his barnyard friends also looked farm fresh, however unready for combat they might also appear.

As a final test of their culinary endurance they embarked toward Via Cartoleria, 10, home of the ragu promised to change their lives, or so fellow students and The New York Times food section told them.

Drogheria Della Rosa was so much more than really (really) good ragu thanks to owner/live entertainer Emanuele Addone. There was drama, (NEVER refuse a cured meat starter when in Emilia-Romagna), lots of hugging/extended head locks (see photographic evidence), lessons on good parenting (let your children follow their dreams) and, oh right, a guided tour through Bologna’s culinary traditions.

Emanuele, expressing his love for his “little Shauna” about an hour/three glass of prosecco in. In more serious moments he told us about his daughter, whom he’s trying to inspire to find her passion. “She can sweep the streets, as long as it makes her happy.”

In between scoldings for refusing the prosciutto and culatello and discussing our astrological signs, Emanuele got down to the serious business at hand. Five types of pasta were shared among the four, including tortelli stuffed with zucchini blossoms, stracchino and squaquerone cheeses, tagliatelle with mushroom ragu, eggplant ravioli with fresh tomato sauce and last,  lasagna, and tagliatelle classiche al ragu.

See how little tomato there is? Traditional ragu is meat, with a hint of tomato. Also, the pasta noodles are so yellow because in the North of Italy they use egg yolk in their dough.

According to Emanuele, ragu was historically made with milk and without tomatoes, which were only added when the Spanish brought them over in the 15th century. Today a small amount of tomatoes are used, but absolutely no cream or milk. Simple intense flavors, in a harmonious balance of texture is the best way to describe the dish. With the addition of the yolks, the noodles were elastic yet toothsome, the perfect conveyor for the hearty sauce. The ragu leverages the minimal amount of tomato only to showcase the slow cooked sweetness of the beef and saltiness of the pork.

Throughout the three and a half hour lunch a number of offenses were attempted in operation “Ingredient List.”Unfortunately for the world the girls were on the losing side of that battle. But, while one battle may have been lost, the four agreed that  the war had been won. Bologna had successfully stolen their hearts.

Drogheria Della Rossa

Via Cartoleria, 10, Bologna, 40127

The New York Times review:


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